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Stipend Proposal

Susan Dorfman's picture

Grant Proposal from Susan Dorfman

AP Biology and the Genographic Project


In 2008, my AP Biology Science Class attended the Penn Humanities Forum Tenth Anniversary lecture entitled, “Changing Places, Changing Faces: The Human Journey.” This lecture was co-sponsored by Penn’s Department of Biology and the Penn Museum and was given by Spencer Wells, Explorer-in-Residence, National Geographic Society. Dr. Wells is a geneticist, anthropologist, and the Director of the Genographic Project. He spoke about the latest discoveries in “his landmark charting of the migratory history of the human species, based on DNA contributed by hundreds of thousands of people from around the world.”

As we listened to the amazing story behind this “Landmark Study of the Human Journey,” we realized that we wanted to be part of the five-year research partnership led by Dr. Wells. He along with “a team of renowned international scientists and IBM researchers were using cutting-edge genetic and computational technologies to analyze historical patterns in DNA from participants around the world.” There have been 250,000 people tested to date. The project is not a genealogy study but rather anthropological study that reveals the locations and migrations of direct maternal or paternal ancestors thousands of years ago.

The project has three components:


1. The global gathering of field research data in collaboration with indigenous and traditional peoples.

2. Participation by the general public who choose to purchase for $99.99 a Genographic Project Public Participation Kit.

3. Proceeds raised from the purchase of kits are earmarked to either further field research for this anonymous, non-medical, non-political, non-profit and non-commercial project or to the Genographic Legacy Fund. This Fund “supports indigenous conservation and revitalization projects.”


The entire AP Biology class expressed an immediate and enthusiastic desire to participate. The teacher realized the potential of the project to enhance the curriculum study of genetics and population genetics included in the AP Biology course. Students raised and contributed some of the necessary funds to purchase genetic kits needed for participation in the project. The Science Department funded the remaining costs.

In the 2009-10 school year, the class did not participate due to a lack of time needed to raise the funds and the inability of some students to pay the cost.


 The current AP Biology students for 2010-2011 are excited to be part of this project. Therefore, we are seeking funds to underwrite the cost of participation so that all the students in the class can reap the benefits and share in the data. Through the Genographic Project, each student will be able trace her “deep ancestry along a single line of descent and show the migration paths they followed thousands of years ago.”  As we are all females, our DNA samples will be used to trace matrilineal ancestry through analysis of markers on mitochondrial DNA, passed from mother to child through each generation. If we wish to trace our patrilineal ancestry, it will be necessary for our fathers or brothers to separately contribute DNA samples allowing analysis of markers on the Y Chromosome. A detailed explanation of the project and its non-profit status can be found at:


Each Public Participation Kit costs $99.95, so the total cost of this project will be $1,799.10 to test eighteen students. In return, we will receive DVD’s with comments from Dr. Wells and the National Geographic Channel/PBS production he hosted, The Journey of Man, as well as National Geographic maps illustrating human migratory history. We will all receive confidential Genographic Project ID’s to access results on the web site, and the teacher will gain access to educational materials to enhance the textbook information.

I plan to apply the $300.00 grant to defray some of the cost of this project for my students.


There are not many large-scale scientific experiments outside of NASA that permit public participation. The ramifications of giving students this opportunity to realize their personal story and its place in the human story result in both a sense of personal dignity and global connection, important to the development of young women about to leave the shelter of the Baldwin community and enter the college or university arena. The project both enhances the individuality of each student by revealing how ancient migratory patterns brought her to a current location and stresses the commonality (99.9% of the genome) of all humans currently occupying planet Earth.


Respectfully submitted,


Susan H. Dorfman, Ph.D.

Teacher of the AP Biology Course

The Baldwin School    



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